Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ford - The Fusion Hybrid Tops Toyota’s Camry Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford Fusion Hybrid to get 41 city m.p.g.

Ford Motor Co.’s much ballyhooed 2010 Fusion Hybrid will get 41 city miles per gallon and 36 m.p.g. on highways, based on final certification figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company said Monday.

The move is one of the final steps in getting the vehicle to dealerships next spring. Certification of the vehicle was recently completed at the company’s testing laboratories in Allen Park.

Ford said that the Fusion Hybrid tops Toyota’s Camry hybrid -- its main competitor -- mileage by 8 m.p.g. in the city and 2 m.p.g. on the highway.

The Fusion can travel up to 47 miles per hour using only battery power. After 47 miles, the car’s four-cylinder engine turns on to power the car and recharge the battery.

The Fusion’s nickel-metal hydride battery is lighter and produces 20% more power than the Ford Escape hybrid. It also devised a way to get 28% more power out of the battery cells, said Praveen Cherian, program leader for the Fusion Hybrid.

“It’s not just one thing, but thousands,” he said of the improved mileage numbers. “We’ve optimized the heck out of that vehicle, it’s individual components.”

The battery also can tolerate higher temperatures, and Ford has eliminated its battery cooling system in the Fusion, allowing the battery to cool using regular cabin air.

The company also has improved its regenerative braking system, which captures energy lost through brake friction and stores it for battery usage. Ford said 94% of brake friction energy is recovered in the new model.

The Fusion also includes SmartGauge technology, which helps drivers adjust their driving to get more mileage out of the car.

Ford unveiled the Fusion Hybrid at the Los Angeles Auto Show last month, along with the Mercury Milan hybrid.


Monday, December 8, 2008

A World Without Gas Part 1

It's going to happen, maybe not today, tomorrow or possibly not for a century. But one day, fossil fuels will run out. What then?

By Erik Sofge of MSN autos

It's not a call to arms, or a doomsday prophecy. It's a simple truth: Someday the planet will run out of oil. Whether the endgame comes within decades or a century, and despite whatever attempts are made to restrict global consumption and dramatically increase fuel efficiency, even the most optimistic experts admit it's only a matter of time.

For now, major automakers continue to roll out hybrid cars while teasing the public with more revolutionary models, such as GM's plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, and the hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity from Honda. These might be glimpses of a brighter, more energy-independent automotive future. Or they might be marketing disasters in the making, and yet more reasons to defer the coming crisis for another few years. These are short-term concerns. In the long run, what will it take to achieve an entirely petroleum-free fleet of automobiles? What will the road look like when the gas runs out?

A Complicated Problem

"This question is likely to be a real concern in a 20- or 30-year time frame," says John Heywood, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We have to start looking for alternatives immediately, but that's when it will really become critical." The problem, however, could hardly be more complicated.

Despite decades of research in battery technology and fuel cells, there is no clear-cut successor to petroleum-based fuels. Gas and diesel offer an irresistible combination of energy density and stability. The only drawbacks are the inevitable release of all those converted hydrocarbons as carbon dioxide and other emissions, as well as the fact they are made from oil. Despite all of the political and environmental collateral damage, petroleum is a tough act to follow.

Over the past decade, there has been no shortage of contenders in the race to replace gas and diesel, including cars powered by compressed air or recycled vegetable oil. For now, though, the world of alternative fuel research is essentially a two-party system, with the most high-profile projects falling under the umbrella of vehicles powered either by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells.

Both camps have their champions, decidedly flawed heroes like the Tesla Roadster electric sport car, which could reinvent the public image of electric vehicles (EVs), provided the fledgling automaker can survive long enough to deliver the first batch. Honda's hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity, which can be refilled at only a limited number of stations throughout the country, has a waiting list that's so restrictive the car seems more like a public relations stunt for eco-conscious celebrities than a step toward oil independence.

Awkward as they might seem, these are baby steps, some experts say, and only the opening round in a war between EVs and hydrogen for post-oil market supremacy. "It's unlikely we'll do both," says Heywood, who remains tentatively optimistic about battery-powered vehicles. "Electric vehicles can evolve in a grass-roots fashion. It grows bit by bit. There aren't real barriers to getting started."

EVs: Available Now, Infrastructure Issues

EV devotees can buy small, limited-range models right now, such as the $14,000 Xebra from California-based ZAP,a three-wheeler that can travel up to 40 miles on a charge.

I just can't stop thinking of those VERY windy days...

According to ZAP, sales are up — the company sold roughly three times as many Xebras in the third quarter as it did during the same period in 2007. When it comes to mainstream adoption, though, battery-powered EVs face significant barriers, such as the price and capacity of present-day batteries.

Norwegian EV maker Th!nk, which hopes to start selling its battery-powered two-seater City in the United States sometime next year, has unveiled its design for a more mainstream-friendly sedan.

Th!nk Ox - Kinda cool

The Ox would have five seats, and as much as 50 percent more range than the City — up to 155 miles per charge — but according to Th!nk Chief Executive Richard Canny, "The Ox is a vision of where industry might be in 2012 or 2014. With today's batteries, it would be prohibitively expensive."

Th!nk Ox - Looks like something out of a video game.

Th!nk Ox - Ok, these graphics aren't foolin' me - it really is out of a video game. Call me when the car is built.

Continue Reading A World Without Gas - Part 2:


A World Without Gas Part 2

Even if a breakthrough in battery power revolutionized the EV, there's the problem of charging infrastructure. Is the national electric grid ready to accommodate a nightly spike in power as cars are plugged in to recharge? "And what about all those cars parked at night on city streets?" says Heywood. "Will they have extension cords running back into apartments? It's sort of a suburban opportunity. It's still significant, but it doesn't get us to 100 percent right away."

According to Norwegian EV maker Th!nk, its two-seat City should cost less than a Prius and will be available in 2009. It has a range of up to 110 miles on a single charge, with a top speed of about 65 mph.

The other problem with EVs is range. Even if batteries were to achieve the 400-mile range of a gas or diesel engine, would drivers be willing to sit in a recharging station for an hour or longer? One potential solution, says Jim Sweeney, a professor of management science and engineering and director of the Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency at Stanford University, is a battery rental model, similar to the business model proposed by Israeli start-up Project Better Place.

Project Better Place’s car looks just like a regular sedan according to reports and images on the company’s website, but with an electrical socket and a screen showing the battery power, instead of a gas gauge. The cars are said to have a range of 100 km in city driving and up to 160 km on the highway before needing to be recharged or swapped.

Instead of owning a rechargeable battery pack, EV drivers could stop at a charging station, which would pull a new one off the rack and swap it out. The charging station's battery packs could be charged at night, when the strain on the grid would be lighter, and therefore electricity would be cheaper. "The challenge is that those batteries are very valuable," says Sweeney. "If you design it so you can release them easily and quick take them out, how do you make sure that thieves don't come in and steal those batteries from parked cars? A black market would develop for them."

Hydrogen Power: Costs as well as infrastructure issues

For hydrogen-powered vehicles, range isn't the problem. Hydrogen fuel cells could provide roughly the same driving distance as gas or diesel, with fewer constraints on vehicle size and weight. The larger obstacles include the need to roll out a national network of hydrogen filling stations. Another issue is the high cost and potential scarcity of platinum, which at present is the most efficient catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells. And then there's the hydrogen itself, which must be stored under high pressure onboard the vehicles.

One possible solution to hydrogen tanks is to get rid of them entirely. "In theory, you could hold a lot more hydrogen not as a gas, but bound to solids," says Sweeney. "You would absorb the hydrogen into a solid material, and then it bonds in there and gets released gradually. Essentially it would become a new type of battery." To some extent, fuel cell vehicles are in the same position as EVs, waiting on the fringes of the automotive world for a research breakthrough to push them into the mainstream. But whereas EVs have inched into the market through hybrids, plug-in hybrid aftermarket conversions and a limited number of short-range EVs, hydrogen has barely made it out of the lab.

"To get a hydrogen system up and running, it takes a revolution," says Heywood. "And what would prompt that? Could the government do that? It would have to be willing to spend a lot of money."

Fuel Cell Car

Some hydrogen proponents believe that a gradual introduction of the vehicles will be followed by an expansion of filling stations and related infrastructure, and that the fuel's potential as an all-around replacement for oil — both in cars and for general energy production — will eventually overtake the current buzz surrounding EVs. In a more cooperative vision of the future, the two technologies could share the road. Families could use smaller, all-electric vehicles for daily commuting and errands, and a longer-range fuel cell vehicle for road trips.

To that end, EV development could actually benefit hydrogen in the long term, since both types of vehicles use electric drivetrains, with the primary difference being the source of the current that drives the various motors. Th!nk's Canny isn't ruling out the ultimate alt-fuel automotive holy grail: a plug-in hybrid with an all-electric mode for daily use and fuel cells for extended range. "If we move aggressively on electric vehicles now, the technology will be in place for the batteries and the electric motors and the rest of the hardware," says Canny. "At that point you have range and zero emissions. It's the ideal technological solution."

Other Fuel Possibilities

Although the total number of EV drivers in the United States is still in the hundreds, companies like ZAP claim that their customers have already adopted this sort of dual-technology solution. If hydrogen never takes the place of gas and diesel for extended-range vehicles, there are other liquid fuels on the horizon, such as biomass-derived fuels. Instead of converting valuable corn crops into ethanol, fuel companies could use prairie grass, switchgrass or even new, bioengineered plants. Researchers are also developing methods of turning coal into liquid fuel; the resulting carbon emissions could make it hard for automakers to meet increasingly restrictive federal standards, but if the oil is gone, it might be the cheapest short-term option.

For now, despite public interest in plug-in hybrids and other kinds of EVs, and rising skepticism about the prospects of a hydrogen infrastructure, the details of a gas-free future are still sketchy. One potential casualty might be traditional American car culture — tomorrow's more fuel-efficient cars and trucks might be smaller, lighter and less often used. There could be multiple propulsion technologies sharing the same garage, or an array of bizarre designer liquid fuels that become as commonplace as regular or unleaded gas. Electric vehicles are likely to play some role, particularly if hydrogen's fortunes continue to fall. But the shape of the post-petroleum automobile will come into focus gradually, based on early-adopter feedback and lessons learned from ethanol and other national alt-fuel experiments.

"There's going to have to be a lot of trial and error," says Heywood. "We've done an initial sorting, but there are still more options out there than we'll ultimately be interested in investing in. We've got to keep addressing these questions, coming back to them again and again, in an almost continuous way."

Based out of the Boston area, Erik Sofge is frequent contributor to Popular Mechanics and He specializes in everything scientific and technical.

Read: A World Without Gas Part 1